Letter to the Editor

Goodbye, Henry


(Editor’s note: Letters to the editor can be submitted via The Spectator’s website. The Spectator reserves the right to edit letters for grammar and style. The views and comments expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Spectator.)

You may have to look closely to see it. But for the last several days there’s been an extra star in the sky over the Haas Fine Arts Building. Henry Lippold, the man who defined broadcast journalism at UW-Eau Claire for decades has died.

It’s hurts to even write the word “died” in connection with Henry because there are thousands of his students, including me, who cannot imagine a world without “H.L.”

I was one of the blessed ones. Henry was my college advisor from 1974 until I graduated in 1978. For the next forty years the man was simply one of my best friends.

The first time Henry had an impact on my life was about 15 minutes after I met him at freshman orientation. “So, J.H.,” Henry said (everyone was known by their initials then) “you want to be a spoorrttss reporter.”  He drew out the word sports out like it was a contagious disease. “I suggest you focus on news if you want a job someday.”

Okay, news it was.

Henry’s classes were like a scripted drama. He would step into a class room, with a video camera, and yell, “this is a wide shot.” A camera gets jammed in your face. “Close up!” Nothing was any funnier than watching him jump on top of a desk and tell you about changing angles to get better shots. It was the first of many lessons that would stay with you forever if you wanted to be a journalist.

Journalism was serious business in 1974. Richard Nixon had just resigned in disgrace and the time was short for Henry to instill in all of us the ethical barometers he knew we would need.

When the infamous Nixon-Frost interviews aired Henry invited several of us to his home to watch. H.L.’s beloved wife, Judy, fussed over all of us, but Henry was in full teaching mode. “Was that the right question?” “What’s the follow-up, J.H.?”

It rang of a scene from “The Paper Chase.” Even if we didn’t have the right answers, Henry considered it his mission in life to be sure we were thinking. He knew that some of us would be faced with equally critical decisions even if we were there that night just for Judy’s food.

Henry loved to teach. He put his heart, soul, and emotions into every lesson. A classmate, Mike Rindo, said it best. Henry didn’t tell us how to do something, he showed us. And if you didn’t get it the first time, there was no judgement, he would keep showing you until you got it.

Some of Henry’s lessons I absorbed instantly. Others he pounded into my soul with all the passion of a man who loved the business as much as I would grow to.

About twenty years ago I tried to hire Henry. I was leading journalism seminars across Russia and we desperately needed a substitute teacher for about a month who could jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. “Oh, J.H.,” the words crackled across the horrible phone line. “I would love to come but I fear this reporter better take a pass.”

Too bad, because I kept imagining how a class full of young Soviet journalists would react the first time HL dove to the floor yelling, “You have to go low to get good angles.”

I’m tapping on my own retirement and wondering how do you say goodbye to someone who has been part of your life since you were 18? I called H.L. the first time I broke a lead story. I called him the day my girlfriend said she would marry me. I called Henry when my dad died.

In the next week or so a group of us will gather on Water Street to say goodby to Henry. There will be tears and we’ll find strength in our stories. I don’t know if it’s much comfort to Judy, or their daughters, but know that your dad made a difference in so many lives in so many ways.

No matter how bad the day was Henry always said he was, “tip top.” A show could have crashed. An interview flopped. But to HL everything was always tip top.

Today is anything but tip top. Tomorrow we’ll go back at it and do our damndest to ask the right questions, get the best shot, and make sure everything is tip top. Henry would expect nothing less.

Jerry Huffman is an Emmy award-winning journalist and 1978 graduate of UW-Eau Claire.